CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the worst things an organization can do is give the players a good excuse to lose.
The Ravens did that again yesterday when they had to switch their defense for the second time in nine weeks because they ran out of players.
They switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on Oct. 20 in Denver because they ran out of defensive linemen. They switched back to the 4-3 yesterday because they ran out of linebackers after Ray Lewis aggravated a hip pointer.
It's difficult to judge whether the switches made a difference as the Ravens blew a second-half lead for the eighth time in 10 games in losing to Carolina, 27-16.
Publicly, at least, the players didn't use it as an excuse.
"It's not a drastic change," defensive lineman Tim Goad said. "We just didn't play well."
But it's easy for the players to think the deck is stacked against them when they're not playing with a full deck of players. It also could explain why the team wears down in the second half.
The Ravens' first priority next year has to be to solve their salary cap and cash flow problems so they can play with a healthy 53-man roster and a five-man practice squad. The Ravens simply didn't have a level playing field this year.
For a team to be taken seriously, it has to be able to pick a defensive alignment and know it's going to have the players to stick with it.
The highlights and lowlights of a loss that guaranteed the franchise will lose at least 11 games for the second straight year:
Turning point: Coach Ted Marchibroda keeps stressing to the team how important the first series of the second half is. Yet the Ravens' defense allowed the Panthers to march 76 yards on their opening drive of the third quarter to take the lead, 17-13.
Bad hands: Randy Baldwin fumbled the Panthers' first kickoff of the second half, pinning the Ravens on their 11 and starting a sequence of poor field position that led to John Kasay's 44-yard field goal.
Sloppy play: Trailing 20-16 in the final quarter, the Ravens should have started at their 34 after a punt. But Corey Dowden got a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness on the punt and Tony Jones got a false-start penalty on the first play. That wasted 20 yards of field position and put the Ravens on their 14; they wound up punting on fourth-and-two at the 27. They can't afford those types of mistakes.
Testaverde file: This wasn't the way Vinny Testaverde wanted to celebrate his Pro Bowl selection. He turned the ball over three times -- two interceptions (the first on his first throw) and a fumbled snap. Floyd Turner's poor route didn't help on the first one and Testaverde gambled in the final two minutes on the second one. But the bottom line is Testaverde didn't produce.
High jump: Michael Jackson showed his leaping ability when he outjumped Eric Davis for a first-half touchdown catch. But the officials showed Jackson they don't consider him a star yet when they took away a second-quarter touchdown catch because he pushed off. The stars -- including Michael Irvin -- get away with that all the time.
Running game: Bam Morris managed 89 yards on 22 carries, but his longest run was only 13 yards and the Ravens never really stuck with the running game. In the second quarter, he ran three straight times for a first down on the Carolina 18, but the Ravens then called three pass plays (the last one resulting in a sack) and took a field goal.
Rebound: Cornerback Antonio Langham, who was giving up a touchdown pass in almost every game at the start of the season, has played much better in the second half. He intercepted two passes yesterday, although one was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half.
Surprise: The Ravens are always trying to replace Brian Kinchen. Eric Green, who has spent most of his time with the Ravens in the training room, was the latest candidate. But Kinchen keeps making plays; he caught six passes for 87 yards to lead the team in both categories yesterday.
Ailing: Most of the Ravens' injuries have been on the defensive side of the ball, but they suffered an offensive setback when Derrick Alexander went out in the second quarter with a shoulder strain after catching just one pass.
Costly sack: Teams usually celebrate sacks, but the Panthers' management couldn't have been thrilled when Testaverde took a Kevin Greene sack on the first play when he was rolling out and could have thrown the ball away. That sack cost the Panthers $100,000 under their salary cap in an incentive bonus.
Getting a first down: The Ravens, who couldn't get Morris across the goal line in two shots from the 1 in Cincinnati last week, found a solution on a third-and-one play at the Carolina 43. They had Testaverde sneak for 2 yards and a first down.
Run defense: The Ravens, ranked 24th in the league against the run, did a solid job, holding Anthony Johnson to 3.1 yards a carry, 81 yards on 26 carries, although they appeared to wear down in the second half when the Panthers put together two 12-play drives.
Filling in: Eddie Sutter, playing the middle linebacker spot in the 4-3 defense because Lewis was out, had a solid showing with eight tackles.
Waving the white flag: With 33 seconds left in the game, the Ravens, at their 12 after a punt, ran the ball on a draw and went for a post-game shower instead of throwing a few desperation passes.
Looking ahead: Next week's season finale against Houston is a test for the Ravens fans because it's not yet a sellout.
Pub Date: 12/16/96